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Which are the differences between a roller pen and a ballpoint?

October 05, 2020 3 min read

Roller pen, ballpoint and fountain pen

From left to right, in the featured image, the ballpoint, fountain pen and roller pen of the Visconti Van Gogh Starry Night Series

Roller Pen vs. Ballpoint

When looking for a new writing instrument, we find a wide range of possibilities that offer completely different writing experiences. Also, the final result on the paper that offers a fountain pen, a roller and a ballpoint differs substantially from each other. Thus, in order to choose which is the writing instrument that better suits you, it is important to learn how to distinguish between them. In other words, understand which are the differences between a roller, a ballpoint and a fountain pen. 

The ink used and the mechanism of the point are the aspects that distinguish these three writing instruments from a functional point of view, since they will influence both the user’s experience and the aspect of the lines on paper. 

Fountain pen

Fountain pens are the most iconic and traditional writing instrument. They feature a nib that allows the ink to flow continuously from towards the point. The nib is only present on fountain pens, which makes it easy to distinguish this instrument from rollers and ballpoints.

Also, fountain pens are such a symbol of handwriting since the vast amount of nibs and points multiply the possibilities for calligraphy lovers. Both the writing experience and the final written result will depend on the chosen nib.

The writing experience that offers a fountain pen is smooth and soft. Its ink is water-based, resulting in dark, saturated, shiny writings. This will also depend on the ink chosen.

Ballpoint pen

Ballpoints, as the name implies, feature a ball mechanism that represented a break with traditional fountain pens. Ladislao José Biro was trying to conceive an anti-stain, non leaking fountain pen, and in 1938 patented this system originally inspired by the trail that a ball left when coming out from a puddle. It consists of a small ball in the point that allows the ink to flow when it is pressed. Thus, this ball also prevents the ink from drying and leaking when the pen is not being used.

The closing mechanism that ballpoints usually incorporate is either twist-based, such as the one present on S.T Dupont Défi; or retractable, like the one of Aurora TU pieces.

Regarding the writing experience they provide, the ink of ballpoints is oil-based, unlike the one of fountain pens and rollers, which means more durable writings that dry faster, but less fluidity when using it. This aspect, coupled with the type of nib that exerts greater resistance to sliding on the paper, results in thicker calligraphy with a less saturated appearance. The intensity of the stroke may vary depending on the pressure exerted.

Roller or rollerball

Rollers were born from the need to create a finer instrument that glides on the paper with the smoothness of a fountain pen. Therefore, the tip of the rollers is fixed, making the writing experience much more fluid. Rollers are popularly known as gel pens.

Precisely because it has a fixed tip, there is a higher risk of the ink drying out if we do not close it properly. For this reason, the most common closure system they present is the cap, a key element to differentiate a ballpoint pen from a rollerball at a glance.  In the image bellow, the Visconti Homo Sapiens Basaltic Lava Bronze in roller and ballpoint.

Visconti Homo Sapiens Basaltic Lava  Roller and Ballpoint

Like a fountain pen, the roller uses water-based ink. Thus, both the writing experience and the results obtained on paper are more similar to those offered by a fountain pen than to those provided by a ballpoint pen, with a smoother and more comfortable experience with darker and more saturated finishes. 

Differences roller and ballpoint

The results of swiping the finger over writings made with roller pen (on top) and ballpoint after 2, 5 and 15 seconds. The differences in saturation, intensity and drying can be appreciated.


Since the ink is water-based, it is absorbed by the paper quicker than the ink of the ballpoint, which means a more immediate drying. Therefore, if we swipe a finger on recent writings, it will blur less. However, ballpoint ink has greater permanence and water resistance than the water-based ink of the roller pen.

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